Select a Captain Barossa grower
Phil and Sarah Lehmann
Elytra, Eden Valley
My love of vineyards was a long journey. We always had vines near us, growing up, but aside from learning how to prune in primary school, and picking grapes for extra cash at school I didn't give it much thought.
Interestingly, my family was all about the winemaking, not grape growing. For hundreds of Barossa Growers, selling their grapes each year to one of the local wineries was, and still is, their sole income.
A pre-career change in Engineering followed, but then 2½ years experiencing northern and southern hemisphere vintages drew me back to University and into Winemaking.
Fabulous wine locations including the Napa Valley, Stellenbosch, Burgundy and, of course, the Barossa, highlighted to me that variations in winemaking techniques didn’t explain the vast differences in the wines.
It's in the Vines
The answer lay in the grapes themselves and the vineyards. So when my study did not give me in-depth Viticulture subjects, I went looking for them.
What I found was "Viti production A - Site Selection", taught by the great Peter Dry. It opened my eyes to why a Chardonnay from Meursault and one from Stellenbosch taste so different. Why Cabernet from the Napa and the Barossa cannot be made to taste just the same. The vines have it, folks!
The Vineyard Location
In 2002 my family purchased a 'high country' property in the Barossa Hills, with a patchy and scraggly vineyard that needed a lot of love and tending. With my recent epiphany, I thought it had potential.
Then, in 2003, I was joined on the same property by my soon-to-be wife Sarah, 3 km's north of the Eden Valley village on the Keyneton road.
I met Sarah when her contemporary dance company had brought her to the Barossa music festival. She fell for my dog Max first, and seemed happy enough that myself and Eden Valley were part of the package.
The Vineyard Story
We started with a vineyard that had been planted in the late 90s but with no water supplies, so only about half of the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines got going.
At 430-460m above sea level on undulating terrain, with an eastern and northern aspect, the soils are light-coloured sandy loam over sandstone and mica-schist rock, interspersed with some red brown earth over red clay and some reef quartz.
Soil quality is typically of low fertility, with the rocky and ancient red gum studded land, more suited to grazing than cereal farming, so to date, yields are never more than 4 tonnes per hectare.
Hence, the Eden Valley's cooler, ripening conditions and the light soils combine to produce wines with elegance rather than brute strength.
Using 'mainstream' farming methods for a number of years, featuring the usual weed sprays and synthetic fungicides, culminated in 2009 with us deciding to no longer use synthetic weed sprays and fungicides.
Andrews' "Natural Sequence Farming" focus on soil and water health through vegetation growth and biodiversity was an inspiration.
What’s more, I found winter grasses could be kept down with sheep and cattle, plus a mulcher-mower in late spring helped return organic bulk to the soils. Our worm population has since boomed.
Minimal irrigations can equal minimal summer weed growth. And minimal irrigation makes vines work harder to extract water and goodies from the soil, giving our wine its individuality and life. Low vigour vines also leads to light, open vine canopies and less fungal disease.
But, a recent idea to enhance our soil-health by making use of what is already there has got us really excited.
Bubas Bison - Dung Beetles
The cattle and sheep grazing over winter in the vineyards provides an ample supply of fertiliser (manure) but the droppings can dry out in the sun without doing the soil much good.
I heard of a beetle expert "Dr Dung Beetle" Bernard Doube's work improving dairy pasture with an exotic species of winter-active dung beetle. That got me thinking; I had cattle and sheep keeping the winter grasses down in my vineyard.
3000+ Bubas bison dung beetles have been released into the vineyard and in the process of their egg burying with the dung… it’s aerating the soil, mixing soil horizons and delivering manure to the root zone of the vineyard.
Hence, the name of our wines, Elytra… which are the beetle’s protective hard forewings. The dung beetles are now part of, and, we think a great metaphor for our philosophies with our approach to vine growing.